Opinion: As the red ink grows, so does the Pentagon budget

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

We found out last week that the United States’ national debt had gone over $31 trillion. You can’t blame that just on spending for federal social programs, as the yearly budget keeps going up for the Pentagon as well.

And that’s fine with both parties in Congress.

For example, senators unveiled a compromise plan this week on a major defense policy bill that would authorize $857 billion for military programs in 2023 — a $45 billion increase over what President Biden originally requested.

“This bill is truly a bipartisan, comprehensive product,” said U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. The plan will be named after Inhofe, who is resigning from the Senate at the end of this year.

The $45 billion extra for defense is not a one-time thing. Last year, Congress added on $25 billion more — which was supported by a strong bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate.

That additional $45 billion in military spending — $450 billion over ten years — won’t be paid for with offsetting budget cuts. It just gets added to the deficit.

And that’s fine with both parties in Congress.

For many years, more liberal Democrats fought hard to cut back on Pentagon spending — but that’s ancient history on Capitol Hill, as a yearly military budget of $1 trillion probably isn’t that far away.

Only one Georgia Democrat in Congress voted against the defense bill earlier this year. U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, warned against too much spending on guns — and not enough on butter.

“Excessive defense spending prevents us from investing in the people we serve,” Williams said, as she argued it takes money away from federal programs for housing, childcare, health care, and infrastructure.

There’s little talk among Republicans about any effort to save money on defense. Back when Georgia’s Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House in 1995, he argued for fundamental Pentagon changes as a way to reduce federal spending.

“I think one of our goals should be to turn the Pentagon into a triangle,” Gingrich would say.

But Gingrich’s call for budget cutting inside the Pentagon never gained any traction inside the GOP, as Republican support for bigger and bigger military budgets still takes precedence over possible reforms and cost-savings.

Maybe one day Congress will look at massive bureaucratic reforms inside the Pentagon, the VA, and all across the federal government.

But right now in Congress, the focus is on increasing the level of defense spending — and that’s fine with both parties, no matter the amount of red ink involved.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com